Currently, Lillie-Pearl Wildman is preparing to open in the UK premiere of the Disney musical NEWSIES, with previews starting later this month at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, and NEWSIES is directed and choreographed by Matt Cole. For Lillie-Pearl’s first professional job, she played Texas in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, and attended the Olivier Awards with the cast, which saw the musical pick up seven awards including Best Musical Revival. Lillie-Pearl performed at Cadogan Hall for West End Does: The Magic of Animation 2 and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel: A Concert in 2019, and she graduated last year from Guildford School of Acting, where she performed in a number of shows including The Wild Party (La Chiusa) as Queenie, having previously attended The Rollo Academy of Performing Arts in Nottingham. Chatting to us, Lillie-Pearl tells us about her upcoming run in the UK premiere of NEWSIES, playing Texas in Cabaret and training at Guildford School of Acting.
Later this month, you will be starting your run in the UK premiere of NEWSIES at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, what are you looking forward to for opening in the show?
I am so, so happy to be a part of NEWSIES coming over to the UK and always said it was a musical I’d love to do. As I write this, we are preparing to enter into tech and I haven’t yet seen the space; which from what I hear is mahoosive and like three levels to the stage (stress!). I cannot wait to get into the theatre, hear what the brand new orchestration sounds like in it and show audiences what they’ve waited for. The whole cast is stellar and the boys never stop moving in ways you wouldn’t think were possible.
How are rehearsals going so far and what was it like meeting the rest of the cast and reading the script for the first time?
Day one as day ones go was really lovely, we actually spent the first half of the first week talking about the period and teaching and learning from each other. We also waited until the end of that week to do a read-through, which was so refreshing to feel like everyone had a grasp of the music and context before throwing us in to a read. There are 39 members of the cast, so honestly, I feel like I’ll be meeting new people for the entirety of the run!
How much did you know about the production before auditioning and how does it feel to be working on a UK premiere of a Disney musical?
To say I always wanted to do the musical – I often do this, hear one song or get an inkling of a musical and decide I NEED to be in it – I had barely a clue about the story and the reality of it all. Knowing Disney is at the wheel of this musical is a little daunting at times, but I think, if they have had a governing eye over the process, we haven’t felt it. Matt (Cole) has created a lot of new changes to the story and allowed for more of the truth of the narrative to shine through all the polished dance numbers, hopefully they watch it (and prefer it to Broadway!).
Who do you think NEWSIES will appeal to and why would you recommend booking tickets to see the musical at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre?
Yes, it is Disney family fun on the surface but getting to the core of the story and the lives these kids really lead and the injustice the ‘little guy’ faced is so important to reiterate to today’s audience of all ages. One of our first conversations was about injustices we see today and exploring our own confidence to stand up and say something in its face. Whether it is a school bully, horrid boss to witnessing climate change and a refugee crisis, when do we decide to come together and stand up for something that is worth change.
You performed as Texas in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, what was the show like to be part of and how was it working with the rest of the cast?
Cabaret, besides being my first job, was probably the most formative year of my career if not my life. The cast was the best eccentric bunch of humans I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and I was constantly inspired in that building. The experience was pure magic.
Do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role and what was it like getting into character?
I truly did not realise the scale of the production. Remember, I was still training, so any auditions were beside the stress of doing and surviving third year. My audition process was quite fast, to be honest, and I heard from friends that Eddie Redmayne was doing the show which is obviously very cool but other than that I wasn’t necessarily pining for the show – generally my mindset to avoid disappointment. I actually booked the job on my leavers ball from GSA (Guildford School of Acting) when I was half dressed rushing around to leave. I mean, it is potentially the greatest job booking story I’ve heard, if I do say so myself, and I have never been so overwhelmed before. I am so grateful for Cabaret, it taught me how to explore and create a new character, how to be bold and brave and not feel weird about doing it, and the rehearsal room was full of so much talent, it was impossible not to be inspired to be the best I could be.
How did you find the experience attending this year’s Olivier Awards, which saw the musical win seven awards including Best Musical Revival?
The Oliviers was the most beautiful day filled with so much pride for our company. Seeing my castmates win and then the show winning Best Revival was so joyous and the pinnacle to the whole experience of the show; it only took place a few weeks after some of our original cast members left (Eddie Redmayne, Jessie Buckley, Omari Douglas and Liza Sadovy) and to see them again and for their brilliance to be commended was the best feeling. It was also so great to be there to celebrate the return of the Olivier Awards and seeing all the other shows perform was the most spectacular celebration of theatre.
Last year, you graduated from Guildford School of Acting, how was your time as a student and what was it like training during the pandemic?
Ask anyone that trained during 2020/2021 and it’s mainly a general response of a feeling of loss and frustration. Training at the best of times is draining and relentless but having to attempt 9am dance classes and create musical projects via Zoom is so defeating. I think most people felt a sense of hopelessness while training in this time and to see the government ads about retraining and one of the biggest entertainment sectors going dark without an estimated reopening just didn’t do anything to motivate. Having said this, to be able to come back in our third year knowing that we would have to pull three shows, a showcase and the rest, out of our back pocket gave us a big push. To perform three shows with two meters between each player whilst trying to create intimate stories to tell via camera would not be an easy ask for most performers but to do it after a year hiatus is something all 2021 grads should be proud of.
Whilst training, you performed in a number of musicals and workshops including The Wild Party (LaChiusa) as Queenie, can you tell us about some of them?
I had the best time working on the role of Queenie for The Wild Party (LaChiusa), I couldn’t imagine taking it on without the unmatched mentorship and direction from Cressida Carré. If you know the show, you know there are a lot of tricky topics (racism, sexual abuse, antisemitism, the list goes on) within it and we had a lot of backlash from people who didn’t have an insight into what we were doing in the room – another downside to only having 12 people in the room at a time during COVID. The piece forced us to have conversations within the cast and collectively we released a pre-show contextual video that also acted as a trigger warning for the themes of the piece. I hope the struggles we faced trying to present this complex piece that was given to us is a lesson to all institutions about their choices for shows for their students and has taught me that as creatives we are to make sure there is strong contextual knowledge when dealing with a piece of work. It is now a dream show of mine to do professionally and the time and space for its lessons is coming, we have to hold up a mirror to our society – just give me a few years.
What was it like performing at the Cadogan Hall for West End Does: The Magic of Animation 2 and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel: A Concert in 2019?
Being a part of the choirs for these two lovely concerts was my first taste of professional performing. Working in a choir and making a collective sound is one of my favourite things about this job and to do it beside some of the most talented names in the industry was inspiring. Cadogan Hall is a stunning venue and I only hope to perform there again.
Where does your love of acting and performing come from and how did you start?
I started, as a lot of performers do, in dance class, from the age of three. I stayed at my dance school, The Rollo Academy of Performing Arts, in Nottingham until I left for GSA at 18. The foundation I had from my dance teachers, Susan and Sam Rollo, and singing teachers, Ben and Sarah Cahn, was the start of my love for performing and eventually wanting this to be my career. I don’t think I have a story about seeing a musical for the first time and falling in love with the arts, it has just been my life for as long as I can remember and I can’t imagine not doing this and now I am so fortunate to still get to play and be creative everyday as a career. Having such a supportive family that allowed me to explore every avenue, dance, swimming, piano, football (didn’t go so well) is the reason for me being where I am and nurturing creativity is so positive – fund the arts!
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I love a good solo theatre trip and some of my recent favourites have been To Kill A Mockingbird (Gielgud) – which I read, surprisingly, for the first time this year – Our Generation (National) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Duke of York’s). I love a play at the best of times but these three captured an essence of heightened emotion that was almost a bit musical theatre at times. I also got to see some productions my friends were involved in (A Chorus Line, Legally Blonde, The Lion King etc.) which is always so beautiful to be able to celebrate friends’ successes. On my to do list, still, is Get Up, Stand Up!, I need to see this show before it closes! Their Olivier performance gave me so much joy to hear a chorus singing Bob Marley’s music and honouring his legacy, also, the representation the show brings to the West End is beautiful and, being half Jamaican, it’s personal.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
You know what, I’m still working on how to create a good work-life balance. I think it’s something a lot of performers struggle with as, for most, it is a hobby that has now become a career and we enjoy it so much it’s hard to draw a line between what is work and personal time. Something I love to do though is cooking and occasionally baking. I can spend hours in a kitchen and not get bored if I know the outcome will be delicious. I also took up crocheting in lockdown so whenever I feel an idea brewing you can find me in Hobbycraft picking wool colours or trying to create a new pattern – which I’ll inevitably forget to write down, so don’t ask for a tutorial!
Have you been given any advice over the years that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a new graduate starting in the industry?
Something that sticks with me always in this industry is to not be so hard on yourself. I think it can be easy to say but if you start to let a ‘water-off-a-duck’s-back’ mentality seep in, it becomes easier to grow. People often get hung up on the idea of being resilient, something drilled into us in training, but resilience isn’t just having a thick skin and pushing on through mud, resilience is letting a rejection, a negative comment, insecurity sit with you, digesting it, ALLOWING YOURSELF TO COMPLAIN, and then finding a way to move forward, maybe on a different path than the one you were on before. I am a big believer in the occasional moan and you should always have people around you that can act as a soundboard and advisor for your problems. We are constantly told to be grateful in this industry, but this is a given, when you get into a room, get booked or make any sort of progress we feel grateful, this isn’t to say every subsequent day we are to feel the same. Let yourself be human and allow your feelings to be valid, I think that is the best lesson for our growth.
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